Tight ends have taken the NFL by storm. Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski is back doing Gronk-like things for the New England Patriots. Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns, who host the Ravens on Sunday, is third in the NFL in catches.
Meanwhile, the Ravens are still waiting for Dennis Pitta, their top tight end, to return to the football field.
Without him, the Ravens rank in the middle of the pack in receiving yards from the tight end position. Dallas Clark, Ed Dickson and Billy Bajema, who is currently a free agent, have combined to make 32 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns this season. But the results have been spotty on a game-by-game basis. Production from tight ends can be hit or miss if you don’t have a top receiving threat at the position.
The last time the Ravens played the Browns, they got just one catch for 8 yards from their tight ends. They had four catches for 46 yards in the Week 5 loss to the Buffalo Bills. In the Week 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Clark and Dickson combined for five catches for 26 yards, though Clark did score their only touchdown.
Clark had a couple of games with more than 80 receiving yards and Dickson contributed a season-high 51 receiving yards in the Week 5 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Appearing in the locker room on Wednesday, Clark was asked if the tight ends need to elevate their play. He suggested that everyone on offense needs to step up.
“It’s not about this position or that position,” Clark. “It’s a group that needs to improve. Everyone needs to improve their game for us to get where we want to go. It’s not solely one position that needs to improve. We’re all not making the plays at times that we need to.”
Around the league, though, tight ends seem to be making plays all the time. Graham, Cameron, San Diego's Antonio Gates and St. Louis' Jared Cook lead their teams in receiving yards and eight NFL tight ends have more than all of the Ravens tight ends combined.
Pitta, who was quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target during offseason workouts, could have been that kind of player, but he is on the mend after injuring his hip during training camp. Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism last week that Pitta will be able to return this season. His teammates are holding out hope, too.
“He’s working his tail off, rehab-wise,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said last week. “It’s always pretty cool to see him in [the building] and really see his progression. Hopefully, he can get back. I don’t know an exact date and if I did, I wouldn’t give you all any hints anyway. But he’s definitely looking a lot better.”
In the meantime, the Ravens must continue to rely on Clark and Dickson. They have been able to produce at times, but as Clark said, there is still room for improvement.